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Full text of "Men Of Mathematics"

AN  IRISH  TRAGEDY
practically ceased to be anything but a spurious copy of a
mediocre German metaphysician. Nevertheless each formed a
high estimate of the other's capacity, as Hamilton had for long
been a devoted student of Kant in the original. Indeed philo-
sophical speculation always fascinated Hamilton, and at one
time he declared himself a wholehearted believer - intellec-
tually, but not intestinally - in Berkeley's devitalized idealism.
Another bond between the two was their preoccupation with
the theological side of philosophy (if there is such a side), and
Coleridge favoured Hamilton with his half-digested rumina-
tions on the Holy Trinity, by which the devout mathematician
set considerable store.                                            -
The close of Hamilton's undergraduate career at Trinity
College was even more spectacular than its beginning; in fact it
was unique in university annals. Dr Brinkley resigned his pro-
fessorship of astronomy to become Bishop of Cloyne. According
to the usual British custom the vacancy was advertised, and
several distinguished astronomers, including George Biddell
Airy (1801-92), later Astronomer Royal of England, sent in
their credentials. After, some discussion the Governing Board
passed over all the applicants and unanimously elected Hamil-
ton, then (1827) an undergraduate of twenty-two, to the
professorship. Hamilton had not applied. 'Straight was the path
of gold' for him now, and Hamilton resolved not to disappoint
the hopes of his enthusiastic electors. Since the age of fourteen
he had had a passion for astronomy, and once as a boy he had
pointed out the Observatory on its hill at Dunsink, command-
ing a beautiful view, as the place of all others where he would
like to live were he free to choose. He now, at the age of
twenty-two, had his ambition by the bit; all he had to do was
to ride straight ahead.
He started brilliantly. Although Hamilton was no prac-
tical astronomer, and although his assistant observer was
incompetent, these drawbacks were not serious. From its
situation the Dunsink Observatory could never have cut any
important figure in modern astronomy, and Hamilton did
wisely in putting his major efforts on his mathematics. At the
age of twenty-three he published the completion of the "curious
379